Paul McCartney and Neil Young delivered powerful, inspiring sets – and performed together – at the second night of the all-star Desert Trip festival.
Paul McCartney has learned a few important things about his fans, and there were more than 70,000 in front of him Saturday on the second night of the Desert Trip festival in Indio, California. He has come to a profound understanding of the Beatles legacy, its connection to his solo career and the emotional resonance it has continued to have for generations of listeners for more than 50 years.
One of night’s emotional peaks came late Saturday when McCartney brought out Neil Young, returning from his own explosive performance earlier the same evening.
Their choice of material was the Lennon-McCartney classic “A Day in the Life”, which later shifted into John Lennon’s anthem “Give Peace a Chance”. Both McCartney and Young were all smiles sharing the stage, then tore into the raw Beatles oddity “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” leaving room for Young to set his guitar aflame with a joyfully ragged solo, a searing moment likely to be remembered long after this weekend.
Before his solo acoustic reading of “Blackbird”, he explained the song’s inspiration: learning of the civil rights struggle ongoing in America, he wanted to write something to comfort and inspire the movement.
More recent songs were few in a set loaded with hits and deep cuts that have become cultural touchstones. “We know which songs you like,” McCartney said, noting how the crowd will raise cell phones and lighters in the air in response to the hits.
Neil Young’s stage set up was conceptual on an epic scale with six large Native American tepees placed the full length of the stage, and a burlap-colored backdrop labeled with the words “Seeds of Life”, “Organic” and “Indio, CA”. Young took his place behind an upright piano to play the delicate melody from 1970’s “After the Gold Rush”, and got cheers for an updated lyric of warning: “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 21st Century”.
The set eased into focus with some of his most popular ballads, including “Heart of Gold” and “Comes a Time”, as fans sang along, followed by “Mother Earth”, as Young blew harmonica while playing solemn pipe organ. The song ended with the words: “Respect Mother Earth and her healing ways / Or trade away our children’s days”.
The central event in Young’s set was an explosive “Down by the River”, clocking in at over 22 minutes. Fans began singing form the opening lines, but were soon overpowered by the force of the 1969 guitar epic. Young slashed and bashed at his guitar, the sound intense and nearly out of control, stretched out as always but still noisy and unpredictable, never exactly the same way twice. Lukas Nelson took a wild careening solo, soaring and crashing. “Too much,” Young said into mic, then whispered “too much.”